This paper assesses the importance of early-life conditions relative to the prevailing conditions for mortality by cause of death in later life using historical data for four rural parishes in southern Sweden for which both demographic and economic data are very good. Longitudinal demographic data for individuals are combined with household socio-economic data and community data on food costs and the disease load using a Cox regression framework. We find strong support for the hypothesis that the disease load experienced during the first year of life has a strong impact on mortality in later life, in particular on the outcome of airborne infectious diseases. Hypotheses about the effects of the disease load on mothers during pregnancy and access to nutrition during the first years of life are not supported. Contemporary short-term economic stress on the elderly was generally of limited importance although mortality varied by socio-economic group.